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I've been taught that the active voice = subject + verb + object and the passive voice = object + verb + (not always) subject

I can't figure out which voice the following sentences are in, based on those definitions.

  1. “Pre-treating the mice with antibiotics increased the number of super-shedders while immunosuppression did not.”

  2. “Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.”

My attempt:

  1. “Pre-treating (verb) the mice (object) with antibiotics (object) increased the number of super-shedders (subject?) while immunosuppression did not.”

  2. “Smoking (verb) increases the risk (subject?) of lung cancer (object?).”

Can anyone explain what's going on here, and which voices these sentences are in?

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  • Passive voice is not object + verb, but subject + verb + (usually) complement. They are all active voice. Note that in your attempt 1., "with antibiotics" is not object, but an adjunct. In 2. "the risk" is object of "increases", and the PP "of lung cancer" is complement of "risk".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 10:12

1 Answer 1

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The passive voice is quite specifically:

[Subject] [be-verb] [past particle of transitive verb] [optional by-phrase]

The subject in a passive voice clause is the functional object, it is the receiver of the action, not the actor. The actor can optionally be mentioned in a "by phrase"

[The piano] [was] [played] (by Jack).

Your sentences are active:

[Pre-treating the mice with antibiotics] (particple/gerund as subject)
[increased] (verb, past tense)
[the number of super-shedders] (object)

Followed by a second clause joined with he conjunction "while".

The smoking example is parsed the same way. Smoking is probably better analysed as a noun, and not a gerund. The line between gerunds and nouns isn't always completely clear. But it makes no difference to the answer. The verb is "increases" and it is active and present tense.

A passive voice equivalent sentence would be:

The risk of lung cancer is increased by smoking.

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